Book Review: “The Fairy-Tale Detectives” by Michael Buckley

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The Fairy-Tale Detectives
by Michael Buckley

Book 1 of The Sisters Grimm introduces us to Sabrina and Daphne, sisters age 11 and 7, who have been at the mercy of New York City’s Child Welfare program since their parents disappeared 18 months ago. They have moved from one cruelly inappropriate foster home to another, Sabrina protecting her younger sister but growing increasingly cynical in the process. And now, a grandmother they were told was dead has come forward, offering them a home.

Sabrina doesn’t care to be taken in – in any sense of the term – by someone she regards as an imposter, if not a certifiable loony. Granny Relda lives in a bizarre house in the small, upstate town of Ferryport Landing. There are too many locks on the doors, too many books with weird titles, too many impossible colors and flavors in the food — plus, the old biddy claims they are descendants of the Brothers Grimm, who wrote not fairy tales but histories. And so the Sisters Grimm are hereditary guardians, problem-solvers, and detectives serving the many characters from those histories who live in Ferryport Landing.

Yes, clearly, Granny Relda is crackers. Sabrina decides to escape as soon as possible. The ridiculous thing is that her first chance comes when an actual giant kidnaps Granny Relda and her friend Mr. Canis, right in front of the girls. Sabrina’s life is suddenly changed by the realization that all the old lady’s outrageous stories were true. And now it’s up to her and Daphne to save their family.

It won’t be easy, given that many of the Everafters – as the fairy-tale denizens call themselves – are hostile to the Grimm family. It’s hard to tell whom to trust; and Sabrina isn’t a naturally trusting girl. Can they rely on Mayor Charming, who is quite honest about wanting to get rid of the Grimms? How about the local sheriff and his deputies, who (most appropriately) are the Three Little Pigs? Can they trust Jack the Giant Killer to help them stave off an invasion of giants? The ever-youthful Puck, king of mischief-makers, doesn’t think so – but he’s not so reliable himself.

This is only the beginning of a terrific series that blends characters from folklore with modern-day mystery and family drama. It’s full of humor, thrills, plot twists, and snarky satire targeting people (from social workers to law enforcement personnel) who aren’t cut out for their jobs. And given the adorable openness of little Daphne, combined with the closed-up shrewdness of Sabrina, there seems to be plenty of room for family conflict and character growth in the books to follow.